“First rate adventure, first rate full stop.”

Conn Iggulden

Bestselling author of The War of the Roses

How do you kill a Saint?

Falcio, Kest, and Brasti are about to find out, because someone has figured out a way to do it and they’ve started with a friend.

The Dukes were already looking for ways out of their agreement to put Aline on the throne, but with the Saints turning up dead, rumours are spreading that the Gods themselves oppose her ascension. Now churches are looking to protect themselves by bringing back the military orders of religious soldiers, assassins, and (especially) Inquisitors – a move that could turn the country into a theocracy. The only way Falcio can put a stop to it is by finding the murderer. He has only one clue: a terrifying iron mask which makes the Saints vulnerable by driving them mad. But even if he can find the killer, he’ll still have to face him in battle.

And that may be a duel that no swordsman, no matter how skilled, can hope to win.

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Saint's Blood
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Saint's Blood
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Praise For The Greatcoats Series

  • These books are just joyous – a sequel even better than the first, with characters already set high in the firmament, classics. This is first-rate fiction, first rate adventure, first rate full stop.

    Conn Iggulden Bestselling author of The War of The Roses
  • ‘Knight’s Shadow’ was everything I’d hoped it would be. The fantastic dialogue, the humor, the twists and the exhilarating action all make this a worthy sequel to ‘Traitor’s Blade’. It has certainly proven that de Castell is not a one hit wonder and makes me eager to see what the future will hold for him.

    Draumr Kopa Fantasy Review Blog
  • Is Traitor’s Blade destined to be a classic? Well, that’s a kind of question I ask myself about books I can get some distance from. I don’t want any distance from this book. What I want, just as soon as I finish writing this review, is to read Traitor’s Blade again, immediately. And maybe once more right after that.
    Now that I’ve read the second book in this planned series of four, I’m pretty sure de Castell is carving himself an enduring place in the fantasy canon.

    Black Gate Magazine SF & Fantasy Book Reviews
  • Combining old-school swashbuckling action with contemporary character and a good dose of grit, these books are the rarest of things, great rollicking fun combined with an emotional punch. I find it hard to believe that any fan of fantasy, history or just a great adventure would come away from either ‘Traitor’s Blade’ or ‘Knight’s Shadow’ disappointed. I loved them both.

    John Gwynne Author of The Faithful & The Fallen
 

The Story Behind The Story

Saint’s Blood isn’t just the hardest book I’ve ever written, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, period. I’m not sure why that is. Part of it might be that after the generous praise the first two books had garnered, readers had high expectations for the third volume in the series. I think the other part, though, is that I wanted to keep the swashbuckling flavour of the Greatcoats without losing the tension and drama.

I say it was hardest book in the series for me to write, but it’s also turned out to be my favourite. I hope it’s yours, too.

Excerpt From Chapter 1

We have both a text version and an audio version recorded by the author of the excerpt for your reading or listening pleasure.
P.S. There is no audiobook version at this time. If you’re interested in an audiobook version of the series, let the publishers know.
P.P.S. The author apologizes for his lack of a suitable British accent. Then again, the people of Tristia aren’t British either.

On the morning of your first duel, an unusually attractive herald will arrive at your door bearing a sealed note and an encouraging smile. You should trust neither the note nor the smile. Duelling courts long ago figured out that first-time defendants are less prone to running away if it means embarrassing themselves in front of beautiful strangers. The practice might seem deceptive, even insulting, but just remember that you are the idiot who agreed to fight a duel.

Don’t bother opening the envelope. While the letter might start out with extravagant praise for your courage and dignity, it quickly descends into a lengthy description of the punishment for failure to show up at court. In case you’re wondering, the penalty in Tristia for attempted flight from a lawful duel is roughly the same as that of attempted flight from the top of a tall tree with a rope tied around your neck. So just take the unopened envelope from the herald, crumple it in your hands and toss it into the fire. It helps if you do this while uttering a dismissive snort or even a boisterous ‘huzzah!’ for best effect. Then as the flames feast upon the details of your upcoming demise, place your hands on your hips and strike a confident pose.

The herald might, at this point, suggest you put on some clothes.

Choose trousers or breeches made of a light, loose fabric, with plenty of room to move. There’s nothing quite so embarrassing as having your lunge come up short at the precise moment that your enemy is counter-attacking and he drives his blade deep into your belly just as your seams split at the crotch.

‘But wait!’ you say. ‘I haven’t done anything wrong! How did I end up in such dire circumstances when I don’t even know how to hold a sword properly?’

The herald will laugh brightly, as though firmly of the belief that you’re merely jesting, before ushering you out the door and escorting you to the courthouse to meet your secondier.

The law in Tristia, observed in all nine Duchies, requires that every duellist be supported by a second – for otherwise, who would go back and forth between you and your opponent to deliver the necessary scathingly droll insults? If you have no one of your acquaintance willing – or able – to fulfil this sacred duty, and you are too poor to hire a suitable candidate, then you can count on the local Lord or Duke to provide a secondier for you. That’s right: you live in a country so feckless and corrupt that those same nobles who would gladly stand aside as you starve to death would never, ever consider allowing you to be skewered by the pointy end of a blade without a second standing proudly beside you.

Make your way past the twin statues of the Gods of Death and War that guard the double doors leading into the courthouse and through to the large central room littered with exquisite architectural features, none of which you’ll notice, for by now your eyes will be fixed on the duelling court itself. The classical form is a simple white circle, roughly ten yards across, however, in these modern times you may instead find yourself in a pentagon or hexagon or whatever shape is deemed to be most blessed by the Gods in that particular Duchy. Once you’re done admiring the architecture, take a look at the person standing on the opposite side of the dueling court. This is the moment to remember to clench all the muscles in your lower body to prevent any . . . accidents.

Your opponent – likely a highly skilled Knight, or perhaps a foreign mercenary – will smile or grimace, or possibly spit at your feet, and then immediately turn away and pretend to be engaged in a thoroughly witty conversation with a member of the audience. Don’t worry too much about this part – they’re only doing it to unnerve you.

The clerk of the court will now announce the terms of the duel. You might be tempted to take heart when you hear that this duel isn’t to the death, but that would be a mistake. Whichever Lord or Lady you offended has almost certainly instructed their champion to first humiliate you, then bloody you, and finally – and with a grand flourish that will bring the audience to their feet, roaring with applause – kill you.

When this happens, you can rest assured that the presiding magistrate will undoubtedly make a great harrumphing noise over this gross violation of the rules, and will immediately fine said Lord or Lady, although that will be roughly equivalent to the cost of the wine in the goblet they’ll be drinking while watching you bleed out on the floor.

Not really your best day, is it?

Well, that’s for later. For now, take a good, long look at your opponent standing across from you in the duelling court, because this is the part where you learn how to win.

Your enemy is almost certainly a great fencer – someone with speed, strength of arm, exceptional balance, lightning reflexes and nerves of steel. A great fencer spends years studying under the finest masters in the country. You, regrettably, aren’t likely to have had the benefit of any of those fine qualities and there’s a good chance that your only fencing master was your best friend when the pair of you were six years old, play-fighting with sticks and dreaming of growing up to be Greatcoats.

But you don’t need to be a fencer right now; you need to be a duellist. A duellist doesn’t care about technique. A duellist won’t be walking into that circle hoping to impress the audience or curry favour with their nobles. A duellist cares about one thing only, that most ancient and venerable of axioms: Put the pointy end of the sword into the other guy first.

So as the clerk strikes the bell signalling the beginning of the duel and your opponent begins his masterful display of skill to the appreciative oohs and ahs of the audience, forget about life and death or honour and cowardice; forget about everything except finding that one opportunity – that single moment – when you can push the top three inches of your blade into your opponent’s belly.

In Tristia we have a saying: Deato mendea valus febletta. The Gods give every man a weakness.

Remember this, and you might just survive the day. In fact, over the years that follow, you might even go on to win other duels. You might even become known as one of the deadliest swordfighters of your generation. Of course, if that does turn out to be the case, then it’s equally likely that one day – perhaps even today – that great swordfighter who’s about to lose the duel?

It could be you.

Saint’s Blood © Sebastien de Castell, 2016

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About the Author

Sebastien de Castell

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Sebastien de Castell had just finished a degree in Archaeology when he started work on his first dig. Four hours later he realized how much he actually hated archaeology and left to pursue a very focused career as a musician, ombudsman, interaction designer, fight choreographer, teacher, project manager, actor, and product strategist. His only defence against the charge of unbridled dilettantism is that he genuinely likes doing these things and that, in one way or another, each of these fields plays a role in his writing. He sternly resists the accusation of being a Renaissance Man in the hopes that more people will label him that way.Sebastien lives in Vancouver, Canada with his lovely wife and two belligerent cats.